As I recently mentioned in my most recent reaction articles covering this year’s quarterbacks, one of the most important elements of dynasty fantasy football is postseason review. This means just after the regular season comes to an end, taking a quick look at the rookies of that year and reacting to their seasons.
- READ: Rookie Quarterback Reactions: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Trey Lance
- READ: Rookie Quarterback Reactions: Zach Wilson and Mac Jones
We have gone through quarterbacks, and in this article, we will be looking at the rookie running backs. This will be part one of a two-part series.
Najee Harris, PIT
NFL Draft Pick: Round one, 24th overall
Former Alabama back came in to immediately take over Pittsburgh’s backfield and see the workhorse volume Mike Tomlin’s running backs are known for. The fantasy football world went crazy for him and many people had him ranked as a top-12 dynasty back, myself included. While some opinions differed due to the Steelers’ horrific offensive line, it all balanced out and Harris was a second-round pick heading into 2021.
He far exceeded that average draft position with 381 combined touches for just over 1,600 total yards and ten total touchdowns. What really brought him to the next level was his running back-leading 74 receptions adding on to his 307 carries.
Harris brought amazing volume but he was not super efficient with it. He only averaged 3.9 yards per carry and 6.3 yards per catch, which are both on the low end compared to other NFL backs. Even with those numbers, it is essential to remember that his offensive line was horrific, causing an upward battle for Harris all year. He still maintained the second-highest tackle-breaking rate among all NFL running backs. If we see the team around him get better, we are almost certainly going to see an improvement in his efficiency as a result.
Bringing in a new quarterback may seem helpful but that could drastically lower Harris’s passing volume. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger clearly showed last year he could not throw deep. He averaged 6.2 yards per attempt, which was behind Daniel Jones and Jared Goff. He also completed 33 pass attempts for 20+ yards down the field which was one of the lower numbers in the NFL. As a result of all of this, check-downs to Harris were a constant in this offense.
Under a new quarterback, that could all drastically change. This Steelers offense has three top wideouts in Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and JuJu Smith-Schuster – although Smith-Schuster may not remain in Pittsburgh. Why would they not take advantage of these receivers? With a different quarterback like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, the Steelers would likely try significantly more deep passes with possibly great success.
Overall, in dynasty fantasy football, Harris seems like more of a hold. However, I would not be opposed to selling Harris at the right price. He is going to turn 24 this March, which is old for a second-year running back. He is only a month younger than Josh Jacobs, who is entering his fourth year. Since Harris has only played his rookie year, people may overlook that age and just trade for him like he is a 21 or 22-year old running back.
Harris is going to be an excellent fantasy football asset in this offense. However, his age for a second-year running back and the history of Steelers running backs being handed heavy workloads leads me to believe his reign of greatness will not last as long as some people may think.
Javonte Williams, DEN
Draft Pick: Round two, 35th overall
The Broncos selected the talented Williams in the second round to potentially be the future of their running back room. He is a very powerful back with insane tackle-breaking ability. He was breaking tackles at about a 33% rate in college and led all running backs by far compared to the other top backs in the class. That is undoubtedly what drove up his draft capital and created such hype for most fantasy managers.
Coming into 2021, he really could have easily been a third-round pick for fantasy football. However, there was one problem and that was Melvin Gordon. It seemed like Williams and Gordon would split the work and that drove Williams’ price down into the sixth round of startups. Fantasy football players, myself included, drafted him in hopes that he could take over the backfield and dominate at some point this year.
Williams absolutely returned that sixth-round value in 2021. He ended the year as theRB15 in full PPR formats. Additionally, he was extremely beneficial to your fantasy football rosters down the stretch. He was a top-five running back in weeks 13-17 and won some people their championships.
Looking to the future, I firmly believe Williams could be the next Nick Chubb of the NFL. Both are hyper-efficient and amazing at breaking tackles. Williams already was the lead back in the league with the most tackles broken per rush attempt.
Williams also demonstrated that he is a valuable asset in the passing game. This past season, he caught 43 passes, more than his last two years of college combined. He has shown immense improvement in that aspect of his game and it seems many overlook this important point. When people discuss Williams, they first think of him as a physical runner which is true. However, they often miss his impressive passing ability.
Considering next season, this backfield should open up for Williams as well. Gordon is now a 28-year-old free agent running back. It seems unlikely that the Broncos will re-sign him to a long-term deal or even bring him back to the team at all. The Broncos understand that they drafted Williams to be the future of their backfield. With the potential that they bring in Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson or even Jimmy Garoppolo, they could have a strong shot at the playoffs and potentially make a deep run if Williams is their full-time guy.
Looking forward, Williams is appropriately priced in dynasty fantasy football and that price is costly. Admittedly, I am a fan but I would not be actively looking to acquire him at his price knowing that the value might not be there. It is really unfortunate because I think he has a very bright future, but he is priced that way at this moment. The window to buy Williams has mostly closed. If you have him already, you absolutely must hold onto him. And if Gordon were to leave Denver which seems likely, his price is only going higher.
In conclusion, both of these young talents are extremely exciting. Both have already made a big name for themselves in the fantasy football world unlike most of the rookie quarterbacks I have written about in previous articles. Even so, there is still the potential for better football in the coming years for both of these running backs. They are both superstars in the making!
Thank you for reading. Make sure to come back for part two, where we will discuss Michael Carter and Elijah Mitchell, two players who are going to be very intriguing in dynasty fantasy football moving forward.
- 2022 Rookie Wide Receiver Reactions: Part One - March 16, 2023
- 2022 Rookie Running Back Reactions: Part Two - March 6, 2023
- 2022 Rookie Running Back Reactions: Part One - February 20, 2023